The Tale of the Unworn Gown

Many years ago, when I was growing more comfortable with my relationship, I entertained the idea that we would get married and began a secret Pinterest board. I was too shy to let anyone know it existed and felt like a preteen writing my name + the last name of my crush together with a heart encircling it. When I was proposed to a few months later, I felt like I could finally work on the board without embarrassment and that I was well on my way to planning a wedding.

How fun, I thought, this would all be so easy. I already had a collection of beautiful, airy A-line gowns that I thought would be perfect along with autumnal centerpieces. I was more than prepared, I had countless lists saved on how to make the experience as pain-free as possible, and yet when I became well acquainted with the wedding industry I realized that I could never be too prepared. I’ve never organized a big event before and I’ve never been married, there was no way I could be prepared for all that wedding planning involved. But still, I pushed along and the months ticked by and I found myself breathing down the neck of my wedding, just about ready to embrace it, ready to be a part of it.

There were certainly less than favorable moments over the past few months and I honestly think that any couple that makes it through wedding planning without breaking up has a good foot forward in their marriage. We’ve argued over the most idiotic things but then we’ve also come together over stressors out of our control.

Thirteen months prior to the wedding I was able to go bridal gown shopping with the assistance of my maid of honor, two bridesmaids, my mother and my godmother. I had my little Pinterest wedding gown board open on my phone and showed off my dream gowns with glee. We were all so excited–it was a big deal that we were able to do all of this together! I picked a cute little wedding shop, Ellie’s Bridal, that wasn’t a major retailer of wedding gowns and set up the appointment. I nervously did my hair and make up the morning of and ensured that Ellie’s Bridal carried wedding gowns in sample sizes that were “plus size.” (I do not find my size to be plus size and feel that the clothing industry is horrendously horrible and harmful to women. In addition to this, bridal gown sizes are 2-4 sizes greater than a bride’s “street size,” leading to further disgust and upset for a woman who is not entirely thrilled with their body).

Ellie’s Bridal assured me that they had gowns that were plus size that I could try on so when I arrived that October morning, I had stars in my eyes, money in the bank, and I was ready to buy my gown.

After an hour, however, I was sweaty and felt like my emotions had been drawn out too thin. My bridesmaids gathered countless gowns that they felt were beautiful (they were) and fitting for my personality (they were) but we quickly learned that the sample sizes the shop had were not the “plus sizes” that they had proclaimed they carried. For a solid hour I squeezed into dress after dress, all sizes lower than my street size and by far too small for me to fit into. I felt embarrassed each time I left the dressing room and more than once I simply refused to show the small gathering of my loved ones the gown I had tried on. Each dress took two people–myself and an assistant–to put on me. There was squeezing, sucking in my gut, pinched skin and I felt disgusted with myself.

Not that any size should be something to be ashamed of, and I would tell any woman not to be ashamed of their size, but the same advice can’t be taken to heart for me. I’ve always struggled with seeing the same flame of brilliance in myself that I so easily see in others.

Medication, taken three years ago, caused rapid weight gain. I was always generally thin with a larger butt and curves to highlight my waist and breasts; I was content with this though, I had accepted years before that I would always be someone with curves and I grew to embrace them once I shed my awkward teen years. But medication caused me to gain five pounds each month. I ballooned, my weight jumping sixty pounds over a stretch of time, and I grew to dislike myself. My eating habits had gotten better, I was more conscious of what I took in, and I had stopped many “unhealthy” foods from entering my body, yet the weight continued to stack on. I was heartbroken and disgusted with myself, particularly since I had previously been so proud that I had changed my lifestyle for one that was more healthy. It seemed worthless, pointless, and like I was failing myself and society.

But let’s return to October when I was going to try on wedding gowns. I had lost some of the weight I put on from medication thanks to getting off that medication a year and a half before. I went from a size 20 pants to a size 18 and was even nearing a size 16, slowly but surely, my body began to shed the weight it had and I was feeling pretty good with myself.

At least until I tried on multiple wedding gowns that did not fit. For an hour it was one gown after another and in the end, only two of the sample gowns fit my body. Between these gowns, I felt I had found the one. It fit! It hung on my hips and showed off my breasts and covered up the places I wanted covered. It was a gown, a pretty one, and after all those other gowns that were so awful, these worked.

So I picked a gown and I barely cried except for when I saw my mother have tears in her eyes. The owner, Ellie, was chased down and rushed to my side to quickly measure me: breasts, small of my waist, the top of my hips. “A twenty,” she announced as she pointed at the size chart for this gown. I leaned forward and frowned at the chart, all of my measurements fit the size 20 except for my hips which were two inches too big. “The gowns can be let out,” I had heard earlier.

Instead, Ellie looked me over and said, “You’ll lose weight, right?”

It stung to hear the sentence that I had always had going through my own head being said out loud by a stranger. After rapidly blinking for what felt like minutes which more than likely were probably seconds I responded weakly, “I hope so, but we’ll see.” And gone she went, the owner of the bridal salon, and there on my sheet was the size 20 gown they would order.

That was October.

The holidays are always a season where I, much like most of America, put on additional pounds. The parties, the baked goods, the endless meals which are a huge and important holiday in my Sicilian American household, and yet during this winter I ended up settling another size down in pants–to a size 16. I even fit into some tops from a preferred clothing store again, something I hadn’t been able to do for nearly two years. I felt like I was finally getting into a great stride and after a summer of eating healthy and working out at least once a week (which was still more than I ever did before) I was certain I was headed in the right direction.

Suddenly it was August and it was time to get fitted for my wedding gown. But something wasn’t quite right, I was dreading the appointment. That’s…not how you should feel when you’re about to see your gown for the first time in ten months. Every former bride I met would recount their own gown fittings and how excited they were, that they couldn’t wait to see their gown again and to get reacquainted with it. But not me, I felt sick to my stomach the morning of the fitting. It became an ongoing mantra to my one bridesmaid as we drove to the shop, “I’m so scared I won’t fit in the gown. I’m dreading this.”

Once I arrived at Ellie’s Bridal, they whisked me downstairs to the alteration room where my gown awaited. “Here you go, try it on and let me know when you’ve got it on!” The friendly Grace instructed before disappearing. I stared at the wedding gown in its clear bag and didn’t rush for it. It was a beautifully structured and gorgeously detailed gown, but I still felt no excitement to try it on. Quietly, I asked Grace to help me. Slowly I got into the dress, stepping into it and holding out my arms as Grace pulled it up. My legs were pinched together and I thought briefly, “This isn’t very uncomfortable; I’ll never be able to go to the bathroom in this dress during the wedding unless I take the whole thing off.”

My frown deepened when I heard Grace call for help of her own. She couldn’t get the dress to zipper. I was quickly plunged back to October when I couldn’t fit in any gowns and immediately began to mentally berate myself.

You should have eaten more healthy.
The fruit tart you had for your birthday a month before was an indulgence and now look where it got you.
You should have found a way to work out more, it doesn’t matter that you’re working full-time and in graduate school.
Fat lard.
You’re so disgusting.
Your fiance is going to wish he never married you when he sees you.

Despite all their tugging on the zipper, it wouldn’t zip. “There’s four inches of space, we can only let out two,” Grace confided to me, her voice as sympathetic as her face portrayed. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m somewhat nervous. I don’t want to say start looking for another gown, but we may need to do that. I can see if they can rush order a larger size but I’m not sure if we’ll get it in on time…”

Now look what you’ve done, you can’t even fit in your gown.
It took five months for this gown to arrive.
There’s no way another gown will be in on time.
You have nothing to wear for your wedding.
You fat slob.
This is what you get.

“Can you measure me again, please?” I managed to say, barely holding back the tears I wanted to shed. My voice cracked and I avoided looking at my two bridesmaids who stood near by with confusion on their faces. My eyes burned but I kept them open, focused, and somehow prevented them from filling with tears. Grace agreed and measured my breasts from different angles, my waist, the top of my hips, and the lower half of my hips–all areas that had never been put into consideration in October. The measurements were the same as what the owner had taken but the owner had never taken the measurements of my lower hips which was where the problem of the other gown resided. The size 20 wouldn’t fit, it never would have fit. I hadn’t gained weight and yet I was never destined to wear that gown. “I think this gown runs small,” Grace admitted as she glanced at me with worry in her face. “I’ll try and call the designer though, I’ll see what I can do. They’re closed on weekends, at least I think, but I’ll try to get a hold of them anyway. I’ll be right back!”

My shoulders slumped as she disappeared and my bridesmaids found their voices. Quickly they asked what had happened and condemned the shop, the owner, how dare they, they got the measurements wrong! They ordered the wrong size! And I generally stayed quiet with my gaze cast down because I couldn’t look at them, I couldn’t meet their gaze, I couldn’t handle the sympathy or rage.

We left shortly later and found a salad restaurant for lunch. As we sat there, I admitted that the owner had asked if I would lose weight and my bridesmaids grew even more angry. On the drive home, we told my fiance what had happened and he, dutifully, called my mother to break the news.

I spent the remainder of that day in bed sobbing and refusing food.

Two days later, I walked into a David’s Bridal with only one bridesmaid in tow. It wasn’t the grand experience I had originally had with half of the wedding party there but I was sick to my stomach with nerves I would have nothing to wear to my own wedding.

“You could just wear one of your dresses,” my fiance tried for comfort, “you have plenty of pretty dresses.”

Not wanting to wear a knee-length blue dress with cacti printed across it to my own wedding, I hoped that David’s Bridal would be able to relieve some of the stress and I could find another gown that actually fit.

“Yes we have sample sizes up to a 26,” the girl on the phone had reassured me the day before. But I expected it to be like October where I still had to squeeze into gowns.

And yet… we found size 20s and I grabbed armfuls of these gowns. There were endless options for me to try and I would be able to actually fit in them. Still, I had little hope I would look lovely in them. I could still myself so clearly in the mirrored image, stuffed into gowns that were too tight for my body and seemed ready to burst. But…I fit into the gowns that we found. The size 20, often enough, was actually too loose.

The attendant who helped me came back and forth with multiple gowns and each one stood out as its own solid gown. Instead of looking into a mirror and seeing how I didn’t fit in the gown, I saw instead the structure of the gown and how I wore it. I was able to note the details I liked and point out what didn’t work. I wore different styles that I had initially crossed out because I had looked so awful in the versions I had tried on in October.

“I grabbed this one for you to try, it’s a blush but I think you’ll like it,” The attendant told me, hanging one more dress up. I frowned but agreed to give it a go, worried the dress would look awful on me. Blush? I didn’t want a blush gown. Oh and it was strapless, too, something else I had tried to stay away from. And an A-line? Ah, I had wanted an A-line gown so badly in October but when I tried on the A-line gowns, the waist’s seem squeezed me too tight and my breasts were pressed up under my chin. I wouldn’t like this dress, despite the beautiful lace it had. But I had to try it on, I didn’t want to be rude to the shop attendant.

When I put it on, I stood in the mirror-less changing room and looked down at the various laces and the gentle blush. It actually…wasn’t that bad. But it wasn’t until I stepped out of the changing room and looked in the large mirrors that I paused and felt tears in my eyes. They weren’t the tears of embarrassment or self-shame. They were, instead, the utter relief and happiness to have found the type of gown I had long-held a torch for but never thought I could fit in or have work for me due to the small sizes I tried on months before. It was that dream gown I had always kept an eye on and thought I would never wear. I had, with complete certainty, found my dress.

In a completely different course of events, I was eager for this dress to be delivered and for myself to try it on. I ordered it in a size 20, despite that the store urged me to go to a lower size, because I was nervous of the same issues that had happened before. When it arrived five days later and I donned it for the first time, noting that it was loose as the employees had predicted, I couldn’t stop smiling and touching the material of the gown. I didn’t want to get out of it and even after I brought it home, I kept sneaking peeks of it.

It was an experience I hadn’t been prepared for, one that I found no Pinterest boards about. What do you do when you’re pressured into a gown? What do you do when you’re pressured and you don’t even realize it until far too late? I realized, after finding the new gown, that I had originally picked the first one because it was one of two that fit. I had picked it because I never wanted to go through another hour of being squeezed into gowns that were too small for me over and over again, only to stare at my stuffed form in a mirror. I had picked it because I wanted the experience with my family to end on a happy note. I had picked it because I thought no other gown could fit. My dread for seeing that gown again should have been sign enough but there were so many others, not wanting to wear it until right before the ceremony, and never looking at pictures of the gown after my initial purpose. I didn’t realize how much that gown wasn’t the one until I had found the one.

The bridal gown shopping experience should be a positive one and there should be gowns to fit any size. If a store does not produce those gowns, then it’s not worth continuing the experience. You might as well stab yourself in the stomach, it’d be just as painful. You shouldn’t be afraid to see your gown, shouldn’t be afraid you won’t fit, shouldn’t be planning around how long you don’t have to wear it the day of your wedding long before the day even arrives. Get the gown you dream of, try it in colors or with a different bust than you would originally go for, give them all a chance but only those whose simple sizes fit your size. If someone gives any criticism to your shape or size, don’t give them your money.

It was an awful experience but I came out with a better result: a gown I love and can’t wait to wear, a gown for a girl who would be marrying the guy I’m marrying. I took an awkward path to get here, but now I can put away that gown inspiration board on Pinterest because gown shopping is done and I’m ready to get married already.

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